Tom Slee doesn’t like hucksters and thinks you shouldn’t either

Tom Slee landed about 50 punches in this piece. Easily the best thing I’ve read in a while. Go read now.

…I hope that, if you reflect, you’ll agree that the new peer-to-peer companies are a blight on the landscape of egalitarian thinking. Yes, according to CNN, CEO Brian Chesky “thinks of Airbnb as more than a company – to him it is a movement. His site invites users to return to a time when hitchhiking wasn’t dangerous – when it was just fine to share anything with strangers because no one was all that strange.” But Brian Chesky has not tried to start a movement, he’s started a company: and he hasn’t actually done anything much to make hitchhiking less dangerous. He wants his customers to think of it as a movement while he owns the business.


The contrast with real efforts to break down barriers to access and to make more accessible, non-commercial travel a reality is dramatic. None of the peer-to-peer companies “start from an entrenched social problem and work backwards from there” as Catherine Bracy writes. For real inspirarion, look back to efforts like the Ramblers Association’s 1932 mass trespass of Kinder Scout, the services provided over the years by the Youth Hostel Association and Hostelling International, all characterized by a broad base, by people who thought about what they were doing, and who had an actual commitment to their goals. And guess what? Remarkably enough, none of these has billionaire venture capitalists – or even the profit motive – behind them.

Catherine Bracy’s piece, which Tom links to in his article, is also worth reading.


Ian Bogost linked this hucksterism to the new higher education business hucksters. His piece, and the one he links to by Mark Guzdial, are interesting. But their pieces are interesting as much for what they include as what they leave out. They are both university professors and both show little introspection as to how horrible higher education is. While it’s easy to attack the flaws of a horrible competitor, it’s much harder to admit the reason a horrible competitor is coming to eat your lunch is because you yourself are horrible.

Mark writes about the teaching and university system of an alien planet in a different universe. Like the businesspeople who issue denialist non-apology apologies, Mark seems to think the problem is this,

We haven’t done enough to tell people what we do well. MOOCs do what the external world thinks that University teachers do.

Ah, yes. The problem with higher education is that universities and professors haven’t gone around and told enough people what they do well. That must be it.

MOOCs don’t do what the external world thinks university professors do. They do what everyone knows universities do: deliver a bad product that doesn’t meet people’s needs. MOOCs will probably just do that for a lot less money.